AnaMaria Curtis is from the part of Illinois that is very much not Chicago. She’s the winner of the LeVar Burton Reads Origins & Encounters Writing Contest and the 2019 Dell Magazines Award. In her free time, AnaMaria enjoys starting fights about 19th century British literature and getting distracted by dogs. “Family Cooking” is her first appearance in Uncanny, a powerful tale of complicated relationships and magical cooking.
Uncanny Magazine: “Family Cooking” is a beautiful story of family, food, and magic. What was your starting point or inspiration?
AnaMaria Curtis: It’s been a few years since the first draft of this story, so I don’t remember exactly what kicked it off! However, I do know that with this story I wanted to show a kind of second- or third-hand anger made solid. I think this kind of anger or resentment or bitterness often feels somewhat unreal, like we’re not allowed to feel it or be influenced by it, because in some way it doesn’t belong to us. And so I wanted to make that something concrete, something that existed in a way that couldn’t be ignored or brushed aside, but still something relatively small-scale, something that could show up in a life that doesn’t look too dissimilar from mine. For me, food has always been very connected to family and other relationships, so it felt like a good place to start.
Uncanny Magazine: There are some excellent descriptions of food in this story, some appetizing and others significantly less so. Do you like to cook? Do you have a favorite recipe and/or any tales of complete culinary disaster?
AnaMaria Curtis: I do like to cook! One of the great pleasures of adulthood for me has been having a kitchen that I have real ownership over. The day-to-day slog of cooking-to-eat can be an ordeal, but I love taking time to try new recipes or make old favorites for friends. Sometimes getting in the kitchen and doing something with my hands is the best way to get out of my own head. As for favorite recipes, I really like making crème brûlée where you just use the broiler in the oven for the tops because it makes me feel like I’m creating something magical with mundanity.
Uncanny Magazine: I love the idea that hate makes otherwise nice things dangerous—of jewelry that makes people sick and food that turns poisonous—and this story is a lovely exploration of what it is like to try to let go of hatred. Is this a theme you find yourself returning to in your fiction? What other themes are you often drawn to?
AnaMaria Curtis: I do tend to write about anger, especially anger that is confusing or feels somehow not allowed, and figuring out what to do with it—or what, if anything, can be done with it. But I do have happier themes and elements as well! I like to write about work that people can do with their hands, especially crafting and creating, and I do write a lot about food, especially fruit or anything grown in a garden. Thematically, I’m drawn to homesickness and nostalgia, the realization that maybe home was a time as well as a place, but I also really like writing stories where characters realize they’re more connected to others than they thought they were.
Uncanny Magazine: If you had the kind of magic described in this story, what craft or talent would you want to put it into?
AnaMaria Curtis: Probably sewing! I sew a little already, and it’s one of the crafts that’s such a built-in part of daily life that I think we don’t really see it anymore. There’s a lot of beauty and expression in clothing alongside the very real utility of having something to wear, and that’s something I’ve always wanted to be more intentional about taking advantage of in real life.
Uncanny Magazine: Who are some of your literary influences? Of the things you’ve read recently, what have you really enjoyed?
AnaMaria Curtis: Oh my goodness, where to begin? There are many writers of short fiction today whom I really admire and who taught me to love short stories—Sam J. Miller, Isabel Yap, Alyssa Wong, and Amal El-Mohtar, to name but a few—and I had a very intense 19th century British Literature phase in high school. I suspect I will be rereading Austen in awe for the rest of my life.
It’s been a few months, but “A Flower Cannot Love the Hand” by Aimee Ogden (in Beneath Ceaseless Skies) was incredibly beautiful and intense. It knocked me over completely when I read it, and I’ve been slightly haunted by it ever since. I’m not usually a big reader of nonfiction, but I also recently finished The Fabric of Civilization: How Textiles Made the World by Virginia Postrel, which I found absolutely riveting!
Uncanny Magazine: What are you working on next?
AnaMaria Curtis: I’m in the middle of writing and revising lots of short stories (everything from “two women turn into the earth and sky and have a messy break-up about it” to “sci-fi vet hospital heist rom-com”). I spend a lot of time revising stories before I submit them, and I like being able to jump around between projects as I go through different iterations of each story.
On top of all those short stories, I’m also starting to experiment with longer forms a bit, which I’m really excited about! It’s fun to see what happens when I give myself and my characters a little more space to breathe and grow, so I’m looking forward to seeing where that takes me.
Uncanny Magazine: Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us!
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